YAHAPALANA AND THE REPUBLIC OF CHINA Part 11
Posted on August 20th, 2019

KAMALIKA PIERIS

China is not merely standing by as the USA increases its position in Sri Lanka. China is engaging in Track 1 diplomacy as well. President Maitripala Sirisena will leave tomorrow for China on a three-day visit, in a move that has surprised both political and diplomatic circles over its urgency, reported the Sunday Times on May 2019.

Formally, he is attending a Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilisations” that will open on May 15. However, a one-on-one meeting has been arranged for President Sirisena with Chinese President Xi Jinping.  A similar meeting has also been arranged with Prime Minister Le Keqiang, What President Sirisena will discuss with the Chinese President has not been explained. sources said the recent IS-backed massacre will figure when Sirisena briefs him on measures taken by the government. Also on the cards is a catalogue of projects for which Sirisena is seeking Chinese assistance, said Sunday Times.

At the 40th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva February 2019 China defended Sri Lanka’s efforts to protect human rights in the country and called on the international community to support the domestic process in Sri Lanka. China said it recognizes the efforts taken by Sri Lanka to promote human rights. China also took note of the measures taken by Sri Lanka to improve the economy and eliminate poverty. The Chinese delegation said that Sri Lanka has also taken steps to protect the rights of women and vulnerable groups. China said that the steps taken by Sri Lanka must be appreciated and the international community must consider objectively and impartially the human rights situation in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka-China Friendship Association (SLCFA) warned in June 2019 that the United States was attempting to force Sri Lanka to sign agreements that would be disastrous to its sovereignty and to take sides in a trade war that it had launched against China by weaponizing GSP+ concessions.”

A high-level delegation from the United States of America will arrive in Sri Lanka to discuss trade matters, among which GSP+ would be a main point of discussion, the Association said. While they say they will not use trade as a tool to influence Sri Lanka, history has shown that the US does use trade as a weapon to influence the independent decisions of sovereign countries of the world.

Earlier this month the US withdrew the GSP+ facility accorded to India and India has raised import taxes as high as 120% on a number of U.S. items from Sunday. The US government team arrives hot on the tail of US withdrawing the GSP+ facility to India. This US move is also an attempt to push Sri Lanka to sign the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), an unequal agreement which endangers independence and sovereignty of Sri Lanka,” SLCFA said.

American ‘aid’ had been disastrous to billions across the world. Chinese presence and aid had given nations like Sri Lanka, some strategic autonomy, breathing space and a chance to not make structural adjustments that come along with so-called US ‘aid’, the Association concluded.

In July 2019 the Sri Lanka – China Friendship Association issued another statement. Given recent revelations that senior politicians and officials have attempted to influence the signing of various agreements that are favourable to the US and inimical to the sovereignty of the country, Sri Lanka – China Friendship Association (SLCFA) urges the government to beware of pro-western loyalists within its ranks.

SLCFA said: “We have always been stressing the importance of ceaseless vigilance against the attempts of imperialist powers to affect our sovereignty.  Our stand was proven recently when it was revealed that the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA), had been pushed through the Cabinet by pro-US elements without consultation from the defence ministry, and that if the President had not intervened, the Status Of Forces Agreement (SOFA,) now re-branded as Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) too would have been signed without even consulting the Parliament, let alone the people.

The government is also planning to sign an agreement between the government and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC.) The US had been the global hegemony for almost 30 years now, but its powers are waning as history shows us. It is the superpowers in decline that are often the most dangerous. Thus, SLCFA urges political leaders to be mindful of manipulations by the Western powers and countries affiliated with them, SLCFA said in conclusion.”

China’s contribution to Sri Lanka is now placed firmly on the record. The Chinese involvement in Sri Lanka during the long drawn out Eelam War is noteworthy, said Jayanath Colombage. Although India, Pakistan, USA, Israel, Russia, and Ukraine supported the government of Sri Lanka against LTTE the major contribution came from China. China provided weapons when many other nations shied away citing human right considerations. China even established a bonded warehouse for arms and ammunition that was required to fight the war in Sri Lanka. We were able to end the LTTE because China threw its weight behind us and sent us the required arms, agreed K. Godage.

After its victory over the LTTE, Sri Lanka was unanimously granted Dialogue Partner status in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in June 2009. The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, consisting of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan is an important international grouping dealing with security in the region. It is a security body with a real military dimension, observed Godage. Sri Lanka has entered as a dialogue partner. This puts Sri Lanka under the umbrella of China and Russia. Though not specifically stated in the charter, a dialogue partner can request protection and military aid from the Organisation said Godage.

The post-conflict period saw the west and other powers staying away from Sri Lanka’s development programs, analysts said. China became the number one development partner and biggest Foreign Direct Investor in Sri Lanka, mainly focusing on much-needed infrastructure projects such as highways, ports, airports and power generation sectors. Chinese aid to Sri Lanka is many times more than the aid of western countries such as the US, analysts concluded.

This series ends with excerpts from a talk given by Palitha Kohona to the Ceylon Society of Australia. In that essay, Kohona traces the relationship between China and Sri Lanka from the Anuradhapura period up to the present day. This is not usually done today. But it is important because such long-standing historical links are rare.

The earliest records indicate that the interchanges along the Silk Road, especially along the sea route, had begun to flourish from the time of the Han Dynasty, from 207 BC, and continued for centuries afterwards, Kohona said.

Chinese writings of the period suggest considerable knowledge of the island, including its politics and the religion, among Chinese scholars. Four embassies were sent from Lanka to the Chinese imperial court in the fifth century. Chinese records indicate that these embassies were sent during the reigns of King Buddhadasa, the builder of public hospitals in the early 4th century, his son Upatissa 1 and Mahanama (412-434 AD).

The Lankan king, probably Mahanama, sent an embassy with a valuable Buddha statue and a replica of the Temple of the Tooth Relic to the court of Emperor Xiaowu.  The Chinese account “The Biography of Bhikkunis” written in the sixth-century details a visit by eight Sinhala nuns to Nanjing in 426 to inaugurate the order of nuns in China.

The copious writings of fifth-century scholar monk Fa Xian from China who spent a number of years at the Abhayagiriya Monastery, in the ancient capital, Anuradhapura, after a long sojourn in northern India, tell a tale of bygone prosperity and complex international diplomatic and trading relations. Fa Xian details the splendid pageant in honour of the Tooth Relic of the Buddha, continued Kohona.

Fa Xian carried a ship-load of religious texts from Lanka to China. This also suggests that Sri Lanka, at the time, possessed significant literature. The ship was large enough to accommodate 200 passengers. Ships that big were not constructed in the West almost until the 20th century.

Chinese records indicate that in 456 AD, five eminent Sinhala monks called on the Emperor and one of them was an eminent sculptor. Undoubtedly, art and architectural exchanges followed interchanges involving the common religion. Two Buddhist texts, Karanamudra Sutta and Vimukthimagga were translated from Sinhala to Chinese in 489 AD and 505 AD.  In the 8th century, another monk, Amogha Vajra, a pupil of Vajrabodhi, travelled to Lanka and translated Karanda Mudra Sutta to Chinese. King Aggabodhi sent him as an envoy to the court of the Emperor in 746 AD said Kohona.  Kohona also said something I have not come across before. The lions at Yapahuwa are very much Chinese influenced”, he said. (CONCLUDED)

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